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Protecting the Gift (of Fear)

how to keep our children safe, protecting the gift, the gift of fear, free range parenting

Protecting the Gift of Fear. How to Keep Our Children Safe Without Living in Fear.

Practical tips on keeping our children safe without living in fear.

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A Case of Mistaken Identity? Or Targets of Sex Trafficking?

Yesterday afternoon I spent a lovely hour or two at a local park with my kids.

While we were there a very strange incident took place. As I pulled in to park my van, a man walked through the parking lot with a girl of about five. At first I thought they were going to get into the car beside me, but instead, they just stood next to it, waiting.

I parked the van, climbed out and walked in front of my van to help the kids out. By the time I reached the door, the man we saw was chatting with my kids. First, he commented on Tucker’s Jedi braid and reached out to touch it. Then he stuck his head and upper body into the van and looked around. All the while he was chatting like we were BFFs. It was odd. The man seemed very friendly and normal. He did not appear to be intoxicated. I continued to help the kids get our stuff unloaded.

About this time the man suddenly realized this wasn’t, as he called it, “Andrea’s crew”. Whoever he was looking for, and thought he was chatting with, it wasn’t us. He was completely mortified…he apologized and slunk away in embarrassment while we went on to enjoy the park.

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We Need to Know How to Evaluate Risk

The incident got me thinking. Thinking a lot. I hear fellow moms talk frequently about how protective they are of their children. How horrified they are if a stranger approaches them or tries to interact. Downright angry if a someone attempts to touch or heaven forbid, asks to hold their baby.

These moms appear to live in constant fear that someone is out to snatch or hurt their child. I’m not naive. I am well aware that children are lured away, kidnapped and molested. I understand all of that (reading True Crime stories is my guilty pleasure). I also understand needing to protect medically fragile babies from germs. Those things aside, I believe that people need to know how to evaluate risk.

Was the man in the parking lot today a predator out to harm my children? We were the targets of sex trafficking? Is that lady in the park asking to hold your baby planning to whisk him or her away the moment you say yes? Or is she just hoping you will share your adorable baby for a few seconds?

How can we assess the threat and know the difference?

I remember when Adalia was a baby, maybe six or seven months old, Chuck and I were in a mall and a little old grandma came up oohing and ahhing over her. Then she asked to hold her.

I was taken aback.

She was a stranger.

In the mall.

I quickly realized how silly it was to worry that this little old lady was about to steal my baby. She was sitting on a bench, at least in her mid-seventies, people-watching to pass the time. Chuck or I could have taken her down in three seconds if we needed to.

I smiled and handed her over. I stayed right by her side, she held Adalia for about two minutes and then thanked us for blessing her with our baby for a few moments.

keeping kids safe, the gift of fear, protecting the gift, free range parenting

Is Sex Trafficking the New Satanic Panic?

The problem I believe is the media likes us to believe that our children are in constant peril. Every stranger is suspect. I am all for watching your children closely and protecting them, what I am against is fear and peril being the default emotion in every situation.

Social Media is a much bigger threat to your children than a stranger in Walmart. Don’t believe me? Read this article about the 5 Disguises Used by Human Traffickers.  Or read this article about how traffickers work.

Or this article here.

Yes, human trafficking is real, but many people are looking in the wrong places.

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Do Stick Family Decals Put My Family At Risk?

The worry over stick figure decals on cars comes to mind. Really? Really? Have there been any crimes committed after a potential criminal saw these stickers and “decoded” family details?

You could get a pretty good idea of how many kids I have and what our hobbies are by simply peeking in the windows of my van. You could be pretty sure of what school they go to by where I live and what district I’m in. If there were any doubt, you could simply watch the bus stop at my house and have the answer for sure.  And the stick figure dog? Puh-lease. That is not breed specific. You can’t tell if it’s a poodle or a Doberman. 20140611_2463 blog

How to Protect the Gift of Fear in You and Your Kids

One of the best things you can do as a parent is read Gavin De Becker‘s books: The Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift.  I think these books are so important they should be required reading for all parents. If I had the money I would send a copy of these two books to each and every one of you reading this post (instead I have to settle for affiliate links).

In The Gift of Fear De Becker talks about fear being a gift to protect us from harm. It’s there for a very important reason. The clincher is, if you walk around in constant fear, you are no longer able to listen to your intuition, the part of you that will signal when something is wrong.

Protecting the Gift describes how to keep our children safe with that same intuition. I am such a fan of the books, it has become required reading for my teens. The Amazon description includes this snippet: A date won’t take “no” for an answer. The new nanny gives a mother an uneasy feeling. A stranger in a deserted parking lot offers unsolicited help. The threat of violence surrounds us every day. But we can protect ourselves, by learning to trust—and act on—our gut instincts.

You can read Gavin De Becker’s bio here. This man knows his stuff.20140611_2445 blog

The Stranger in the Barn

A few years ago Adalia had a job doing farm chores for some friends. The job included milking their cows and entailed her being at the farm alone for several hours a day. One evening she told us about being startled by a man who walked in the barn and began talking as she was milking the cow. My mama-bear instinct kicked in as I imagined all of the horrible things that could have taken place.

What did he say?” I asked.

Oh, he just said, I thought you were {family name}. Sorry, I”ll come back later“.

And that was the end of the story. Once again, I thought of her being alone. I thought of the man walking in the barn…then I realized how silly my fear was. He responded appropriately. He was embarrassed when he realized he was talking to the wrong person and quickly left the barn. I realized that a normal, healthy man does not walk into a barn and suddenly decide to kidnap or murder a teenage girl because she was there alone.

What to do when you can't afford to use the library.

The Stranger Near the Library

When Judah was about 14 he was working to earn money for his mission trip to Zambia. He was helping to paint our church. I dropped him off in the morning and picked him up in the afternoon. One summer day, he asked if I could pick him up at the library (only about a block away) instead. I agreed.

When I picked him up, Judah had an interesting story to tell. While walking to the library a man, walking in the same direction, struck up a conversation with him.  It was a beautiful sunny day. They were in public.

Judah had been painting our church and was in dirty paint clothes.

“I’m a painter too,” said the man.

  • DeBecker calls this “forced teaming” making it seem like you are the same in some way.

“I’m not in paint clothes right now because I had a meeting this morning”

  • To quote DeBecker’s book, “People who want to deceive often us a simple technique that has a simple name: too many details.” Judah didn’t ask about his clothes. He didn’t wonder why the man wasn’t covered with paint…but the details were offered.

The man continued to walk along with Judah, chatting with him. At some point, he asked what Judah was doing. The man and his conversation made Judah nervous. When Judah arrived at the library instead of saying, “My mom is coming to pick me up”  he told the man, “My dad is waiting for me inside”. Then he walked right in the front door without turning around.

When I asked him why he told the man his “dad was waiting inside” he said the man made him feel uncomfortable, was way too chatty with a kid, alone,  and Judah didn’t want him to know he would potentially be waiting alone.

Was this man up to no good? We will never know, but Judah’s instinct told him something was off, and he followed that instinct.

Why Weren’t We Afraid of the Stranger in the Park?

The man in the parking lot today did not strike fear in any of us. The kids and I discussed “having our antennas up” and how “odd” it was. I was right with my kids the entire time. It was broad daylight. The man did not strike fear in any of us. The kids were stand-offish to the man and moved in close to me; all perfectly appropriate responses to the situation. We were not unaware, but nor were we panicked.

I refuse to teach my children that every stranger is a threat. Instead, I am teaching them to use their intuition, to speak up and be heard, how and when to approach strangers and who to approach.

I am teaching them to use their gift of fear.

To learn more be sure and check out both of Gavin DeBecker’s books The Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift.


    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Thanks Carolyn, I am all for protecting our kids, but there actually needs to be danger or a real threat of danger…I am pretty protective in many, many ways, but I also want to use good old common sense. Make sure you check out the books!

  1. Ruth

    So, I know a lady in town who has a daycare and is named Andrea. She drives a silver ford passenger van. And yesterday I happened to run in to her at whatcom falls park with her group of kiddos. Doesn’t have a lot to do with ur post, which I love, but I it struck me as I read.
    Also, I drove by that park yesterday and was looking for your crew ☺️

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      That actually may be who he was looking for, Ruth. He told me Andrea drives a van just like ours. I wondered if someone would recognize “Andrea” from this post. We didn’t stay for long, yesterday.

  2. Julie

    I just requested both of those books from the library. Amen for COMMON SENSE. So often our fears are unrealistic while we ignore things that are actually harmful.


  3. jessilee

    Oh my yes, all of this yes! How can we expect our children to grow up to make good choices when we don’t teach them to listen to their guts?
    So many parents see every stranger, especially male, as a pedophile who’s waiting to snatch up your children. There was an incident a town over where some poor guy was seen driving slowly and sitting on a park bench…they had people on their porches with GUNS because of an unknown man driving slowly and sitting on a park bench drinking coffee in the morning. Turned out, he was an out of state Dad visiting his children. Even when that came out, people blamed him for acting “creepy” and how he shouldn’t have been out and about town.
    It’s very hard to raise independant children in the climate we’ve cultivated today of fear and worst-first thinking.

  4. Lorraine Callaghan

    WOW I am one with a past that has stayed with me and my ‘fear’ is everywhere and yes I did in fact bring my own fear into the light and life of my children I am ashamed….raising my youngest I will work on assessing risk in the same manner I have learned in my emergency management courses and such. This really was an eye opener because I am the one in the parking lot that would have asked him questions as to why he was talking with us….:-/

  5. Anna

    I followed the link to the sticker decal thing…and now I’m imagining that my custom decal is more of a deterrent… Seven kids with martial arts for a hobby? With two guard dog decals? And lots of mud? That pretty much says 1) They’ll fight back 2) They live down a long muddy driveway in the middle of nowhere 3) They’re broke after paying for all those lessons and the gas money to get there and 4) They’re likely to not be worth the effort or the noise. 😀

  6. Peg

    One custom decal we saw recently was seven rifles pointing straight up. Bet that family has no problem with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

  7. Veronica

    Yes, and YES! And LOL to Anna and Peg 😀 I read the Gift of Fear an eon ago when I was a teenager, but I’ve not read Protecting the Gift…I love the idea of having my kids read it someday…off to check it out now!

  8. Jodee

    I agree that we need to train our children to be cautious but not afraid of every single person out there. I’ve been dealing with some PTSD in myself and am having to re-train my brain that the people I love are going to be ok and are safe even if they aren’t with me 24/7. Thanks for these great recommendations for books to look for.

  9. Tarynkay

    I loved The Gift of Fear. I haven’t read the others, but will check them out.

    I had not heard that stick-figure decals are a security risk. They are obnoxious and I can’t stand them, and I don’t like to let those people merge, but I really doubt anyone is using them to scope out a family. Having worked for the public defender, I can tell you that 1) most people are murdered by someone they know 2) most kidnappings are custody disputes and 3) most sexual crimes against children are committed by someone close to and trusted by the family of the children. The number one most common offender is the mother’s new boyfriend.

  10. Sarah E

    Thanks for this post! I definitely want to read those books, as I tend to be a “worst case scenario” thinker. I am so grateful for mothers who pass on their wisdom 🙂

  11. Susan

    My dad was in a public park one afternoon, taking pictures of a mother hawk and her babies. An over zealous mother called the police and had them come talk to my dad because she thought he was taking pictures of children. He and the officer had a nice chat and he gladly showed his camera to the cop. But really. Even if he was taking pictures of children, it’s a public place. He did not interact with anyone, let alone do anything inappropriate. A quick question or two by this mother would have rectified the situation without wasting the officer’s time. We do make fun of my dad for the incident so something good did come of it!

    • Lou

      I had a similar experience. I’m from Australia so while in Canada was taking some pics of kids tobogganing down a snow bank/hill thing. On wide angle and from fairly far away. A teacher came up, ripped into me, got seriously rude and ruined my afternoon. It was such a pleasant location, a public place, and you couldn’t even tell one kid from another. I’ve since found out what I was doing was perfectly legal. It left me feeling ashamed, embarrassed and awkward.

      • Lauryn

        I think a lot of this is because it’s fairly unfortunately common for predators to take essentially innocuous pictures in public places. The subject may appear innocent, but the goal of a picture is to capture the image of the children in the background. I agree that we live in a culture of fear, but I would be suspicious of any adult spending their day in area geared toward children without having a child there themselves. We discovered this when my son’s image was discovered on a website devoted to images of children playing in public areas. There was nothing outwardly sinister about the photos, but it was a site for pedophiles to admire children.

        • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

          I’m sorry to hear this and it sounds kind of creepy, Lauryn, but it is legal to take pics of strangers in a public place. A few years ago I had a blog reader alert me to the fact that some man was using a pic of four year old Hezekiah as his profile pic on Facebook 🙁

          • Lauryn

            I’m so sorry you experienced that! Oh, yes, it is legal, and I certainly believe that there’s nothing inherently wrong with taking pictures in public areas. Most people mean no harm to anyone. It was just an experience that has made me more cautious.

  12. C Smith

    I have long thought that teaching kids “stranger danger” is a mistake in keeping kids safe. They need to know that most strangers are perfectly nice, safe people. What kids need to learn is to listen to their instincts, that gut feeling that tells them something is wrong, and to learn to look for people acting inappropriately.
    I think it’s important for kids not to fear everyone, but to know who to approach for help. I teach my kids to look for moms with kids if they ever need a grownup and they’re alone. I also teach them to look out for danger signs, such as an adult asking them for something. Safe adults don’t ask kids for help. Like you said, the average person isn’t going to suddenly kidnap your child, predators are searching for victims and kids need to learn to be aware of predatory behavior. But, they also need to know that stranger abductions are very rare and most of the world really is a kind place.

  13. Annie Bailey

    A very wise woman gave me the gift of fear right before I went to a state university the principles have stuck with me and given me confidence to put myself in safe and Ok situations. I had forgotten of the book and now will track down protecting the gift too.. I often worry that in our zealous nature to encourage my daughter to be polite andfriendly ill walk on her instincts. She sometime doesn’t want to high five or hug someone.. And I try to make that OK without hurting the other persons feelings. A lot of these people are strangers to her… Just because I know them doesn’t mean it’s comfortable for her quite yet.

  14. northofdelaware

    I’ll read this book. I try NOT to tell my daughter to “be careful”. I heard that ALL THE TIME growing up, to the point it became meaningless to us.

    And I think the best thing we can teach our children is respect for their own boundaries and that they can tell parents about violations of these. I used to run a “Safe Church” training program for the Episcopal Church and one of the unfortunate realities is that molestation is not (for the most part) a stranger situation. It’s someone well known to the child and family. So if my daughter doesn’t want someone to hug her (and that includes her moms) she isn’t compelled to. She needs to know that she can say no to physical contact and it should be respected. And thankfully, I can teach her that without making her terrified of the world–though I am sure there will be some conversations later about what to do if someone does push those boundaries.

  15. Heather

    That book is definitely going on my reading list. This post came at a perfect time. My husband and I own a foodtruck and we rent a closed down restaurant as our commercial kitchen. Yesterday my girlfriend and I went to this kitchen to do food prep and some guy just walked into the restaurant and was lookin around. He asked us if we had coffee for sale and then went on a complete tangent about his life, we knew something was off about him. All kinds of alarms were goin off in my head, but I just continued to be polite and he took the hint we had to go back to work and left. Yikes it scared us because I do a lot of prep work by myself at night there. So yes I just listen to my gut instincts and of course lock myself in next time 🙂

  16. Nadia

    I’ve read these comments with great interest. I am not a mom, but I have a 10 year old sister and I’m wondering how, in practice, to teach her about gut instincts and the respect of her own personal physical boundaries.

    Maybe it’s because I’m quite a bit older than her, but I have the kind of relationship with her that is also a bit motherly – and in fact, my mother works a lot so we spend tons of time together. I feel extremely strongly about teaching her the signs of a “dangerous” situation, probably even more so than my mom is. I had a bad experience as a child that not even my mom knows about, so she is more oblivious while I am terribly anxious.
    If any of you moms could give a few words of advice on how to talk to her, I would appreciate it. I read an article once on “silly people” as a tool to speak about these issues, specifically teaching kids what the silly behaviours from an adult would be and how to be wary of them (i.e. asking for help). But again, I would love to hear some practical advice from moms.

    Many thanks!

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Honestly, the best advice I can give is to have you read Protecting the Gift. De Becker talks about recognizing PINS or pre-incident indicators. These include: forced teaming, charm and niceness, too many details, type-casting and more (he goes into each in detail).

      About three years ago Judah had an “interesting” encounter with a stranger. He was 13 and had been painting at our church. When he finished he walked just a couple of blocks to the library where I was to pick him up. On the way there, a man approached him, kept pace as he walked and began talking to Judah. As Judah related the story to me, we were able to pick out several PINS that made him very uncomfortable:

      1) Forced-teaming- He told Judah he was a painter too.
      2) Too many details- he explained to Judah (who didn’t ask for an explanation) that he wasn’t working that day, and that’s why he had no paint on his clothing.
      3) He was too friendly…what grown man approaches a teen boy alone to chat?

      I don’t remember all the details, and nothing bad happened…BUT, when the man asked where he was headed, instead of answering, “the library my mom is going to pick me up” he answered “my dad in in the library waiting for me”. That to me, was very telling. His instinct was telling him something was “off” and he choose what he felt was a safer answer.

      Now, for all I know, the man had no ill-intent, but it was odd nonetheless and I was very proud of Judah’s response.

  17. Anna

    Renee, this post and your book recommendation and Nadia’s “Tricky People” link have saved myself and my kids from TWO situations. One adult grooming me and one teenaged boy grooming my girls. My intuition was kicked in high gear with both before I read the book, but I wanted to be polite with the adult and not cause a scene…and probably played right into his hands… With the teenager, I was able to tell my daughter (while maintaining eye contact with the boy), “You will NOT get a piggy back ride at class next week because THAT WOULD BE INAPPROPRIATE.” He took off right then, but I’m going to make sure she is not alone from now on.

  18. Sarah Nenni Daher

    What a wonderful reminder to be cautious but not paranoid. I’m going to add The Gift… to my reading list. Thank you writing such an insightful piece, and I just wanted to say that your pictures are amazing! Such a talent you have.

    Thank you for sharing at the #SHINEBlogHop today so I could find you.

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